Sunday, December 9, 2007

Less Hair, Hair Loss, Hairless

“Thank you bu Haji,” pak Ogah* said as I gave him some money before turning my car to a narrow alley in Pondok Pinang, South Jakarta.

Bu Haji?

Lho. I am not Muslim. It is mentioned in my ID card that I am Christian even though I don’t go to church on Sunday (while in many countries ID cards do not say anything about your religion, something very personal which has nothing to do with the state).

Why did pak Ogah called me bu Haji? It’s not because I was generous, giving him lots of money for regulating the traffic in front of the narrow alley. (Hajs, priests and other religious leaders are supposed to be generous, aren’t they?). Sometimes I am even annoyed with pak Ogah who pretends to be busy while the road is empty.

Anyway, he called me bu Haji because I was wearing a Muslim-look blue hat that covered not only my head but also my ears, which any baseball cap could not do.

Sinead O’Connors shaved her head bald, making public appearances with confidence. And she looked beautiful.

Even though I am also beautiful (hehehe..), I am not Sinead O’Connors. I did not want to become the center of people’s attention. People in my neighborhood and everyone who saw my beautiful head would all talk about me, and reporters from Pos Kota, Check and Recheck, Seputar Indonesia, RRI and BBC would swarm my house and queue for an exclusive interview. Oh no… I was not ready for that.

Before my first chemo in January 2004, I had heard about the side effects. In this treatment you get some a combination of several kinds of liquid drugs infused into your blood. This formula (I’d rather call it poison—it’s true, all chemicals are basically poison), which is expected to combat cancer, is so powerful that it also affects the healthy cells.

Hair loss and nausea are the two common symptoms. I was lucky because I did not suffer from the nausea, but I had incredibly painful mouth ulcers. I hated it, but it was not the worst part.

After my first chemo, I pulled my hair, expecting the worst to come. But the hair was still there…It was not until the third chemo that the hair started to fall (like the snow in winter time…) I had prepared myself for this, still I trembled with a chilled feeling in my viscera… and was motionless for a moment… before I took a broom and swept the hairy floor… (lantai berambut)

I looked at the mirror. I used to have thin hair, but it was still better than no hair at all. I wished I was a man. It’s ok for men to have bald head, but when it happens to women, all eyes will be on them.

So I just wore a Muslim hat or a scarf but not a wig because it makes me uncomfortable (panasss).

A friend commented, joking: “Aku aja yang Muslim nggak pakai jilbab, koq kamu malahan pakai… “

Padahal aku nggak pakai jilbab beneran seperti Santi Soekanto (temen ex JP yang sudah lama nggak ketemu.. ) atau Ratih Sang (ex peragawati, adik Dewi Savitri yg juga ex JP) atau Soleha (tokoh sinetron RCTI yg setia ditonton nyokap setiap sore). Yang aku pakai adalah kain penutup kepala berwarna biru tua yang ujungnya aku ikatkan pada bagian belakang. Terus terang, aku sama sekali nggak merasa memakai jilbab, malah rasanya mirip ninja… (tapi ninja yang kelihatan hidung, pipi dan mulutnya) …

One day when I interviewed Martha Tilaar (owner of Sari Ayu cosmetics), the friendly woman said that she was Hitachi – Hitam Tapi China. And then she asked me (who was wearing a black, stylish Muslim woven hat): “Anda Cina Muslim ya?”

I smiled and told her the truth. She responded by offering free hair treatment in her beauty saloon and said that she would give me a comb made of buffalo horn. But I didn’t take the offer because her saloon was located quite far from my house and I was too shy to meet her secretary to collect the comb. And who needed a comb if there was no hair in the head?

Despite the painful mouth ulcers and the hair loss, I felt lucky because during the six-round chemotherapy I did not suffer any nausea or other serious side effects (tapi mual ketika mencium bau seonggok daging sapi menu makan siang di RS). I could work as usual, just like other people.

During my first chemo, I had to spend a night in the hospital (Metropolitan Medical Center in South Jakarta) because the doctor was afraid that something bad might happen to me. But for the five other chemo sessions , I only spent a few hours for the treatment. I drove my car to the hospital and after the treatment I drove again... And I was home, safe and sound.

Two years have passed since the chemoteraphy was over and no one calls me bu Haji anymore. As I have my thin hair back, my hats and scarfs now rest in the wardrobe. (If anyone needs it, I would gladly donate any of them)
*Pak Ogah (literaly means Mr. No) is the character of Si Unyil TV children's program who refuses to help people unless he receives some money. Jakarta has many young people who act as amateur traffic regulators at U-turn spots, junctions and intersections, asking for money from motorists, sometimes in a threatening manner.


Anonymous said...

haluu bu sima...
wah, blognya keren, bu haji...

kapan2 mampir bu, ke blog saya...

Dian jakpost

Anonymous said...

Dear Mbak Sima,
Bagi2 dong resepnya untuk bisa positif banget dalam hidup...Itu bawaan dari orok ya mbak? hehehe

I really love the way you describe your hair loss experience, etc in those funny and hilarious sentences.

When i'm reading each of them, i feel like i am peeling off my own layers of fear toward this monster called cancer.

It's still as clear as crystal in my memory, though, when I witnessed my mom struggling with ovarium cancer and lost the battle in 2002.

I remember that she was so proud with her long and beautiful black hair. Not a single gray hair when she was in her 50-something.

It was really hurtful, then, seeing my mom became so depressed everytime she found more of her hair stuck on the comb and scattered on her pillow, floor, and everywhere.

I saw her cried many times over her hair loss.

Mbak, do you realize that You've created a blog about cancer without scaring people who read it? I'm sure you do.

I salute you!

It's an exciting experience to read from one article of yours to another, mbak.

Thank you so much for your candid sharing.

Keep on writing!
Stay healthy and cheerful, yah!!!

Agnes, The Jakarta Post

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